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Page last updated at 08:02 GMT, Thursday, 31 July 2008 09:02 UK

Hurdles facing Beijing protesters

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Ritan Park
China says protesters can gather in three city parks during the Olympics

China appears to be doing little to fulfil a promise to provide protest areas in three Beijing parks during the Olympic Games.

Park officials have scant information about where protests can take place or how to stage them.

Potential protesters also have to navigate a convoluted bureaucratic process to get approval to demonstrate.

One human rights group says this will allow China to control who can, and who cannot, stage protests.

No information

Last week, Liu Shaowu, director of the Beijing organising committee's security department, said approved protests would be allowed.

He said these could take place in three Beijing parks – Ritan, Shijie and Zizhuyuan.

map

But with just over a week to go before the Games begin, park officials said they knew little about the plan, or how it would work.

No protest areas have been set aside at the parks, and officials there had little information about how to apply to stage a demonstration.

"As to the details, such as to when protesters can come, I don't know," said Shijie Park spokesman Liu Huiming.

"If someone wants an opportunity to demonstrate, they must apply to the relevant public security bureau department," said Ritan Park spokesman Cao Wei.

Hurdles

But applying for permission to stage a protest is no simple task.

The BBC found that potential protesters who inquire about the application process are pushed around from department to department.

And the Beijing Public Security Bureau seems reluctant to give out details. Officials did not respond to BBC requests for information.

These bureaucratic hurdles would be familiar to anyone who has tried to stage an officially approved demonstration in China.

The law on assemblies, processions and demonstrations in theory grants Chinese citizens the right to stage public protests.

But the law - brought in shortly after the Tiananmen killings in 1989 - gives the authorities wide-ranging powers to refuse applications.

Article 12 says protests can be stopped if they "endanger public security or seriously undermine public order".

A protest application can also be refused if it is likely to harm national unity or instigate division among China's different ethnic groups.

All this means that in China there are few approved public protests that are not supported by the government.

Nicholas Bequelin, of Human Rights Watch, said: "It doesn't mean that the Chinese government will not allow certain protests during the Olympics, but it does mean that these will be held at its discretion."


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